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DEALING WITH NEW YORK STATE’S NEW PAID FAMILY LEAVE LAW

Starting on January 01, 2018, employees in New York will be eligible for 8 weeks of Paid Family Leave (“PFL”). Employees will be eligible for payments equal to 50% of their average weekly wage or 50% of the average NY weekly wage, which ever is smaller. The average weekly wage in New York is $1305.92. Paid family leave benefits for employees making weekly wages over this amount are capped at $652.96.

Paid Family Leave is only available to employees under certain circumstances: 1) to help them bond with a child following the birth, adoption or the foster care placement of a child, 2) to care for a close relative with a serious health condition or 3) to help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

Each year following 2018, the number of weeks of paid family leave will increase up to 12 weeks in 2021.

New employees with a work schedule in exceeding 20 hours per week are eligible for PFL after 26 weeks of work. New employees working less than 20 hours per week are eligible after 175 days. Those who have been working with employers for 26 weeks or more prior to January 1, 2018 are immediately eligible for Paid Family Leave.

In addition to wages in the amounts indicated, employees on paid family leave are entitled to the continuation of their health benefits and to have their job protected while they are gone. This does not obligate the employer to return the employee to the same job but to a comparable position with comparable employment benefits, pay and other terms and conditions of employment.

Interaction with other laws already in place requires serious attention. Violations of the PFL Law may give rise to causes of action under the Family Medical Leave Act, sex and pregnancy discrimination statutes among others. Claims under these statutes often award attorneys fees, emotional distress, punitive and other damages which will make a violation of the PFL Law much more costly.

In the weeks before the PFL becomes effective, employers should focus on coordinating the benefits they provide their employees in paid time off, their other statutory obligations with those under the PFL Law to legally limit the amount of time an employee can take off to an amount the business can manage. For instance, if an employer gives its employees two weeks paid vacation, it should consider making the changes necessary to its policies and procedures to make sure that paid family leave counts as vacation time.

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